The Public Prosecutor’s Office for Environment and Land Planning, headed by chief prosecutor Antonio Vercher, was created in 2006, and has since stepped up the prosecution of environmental offences in Spain. The current headcount comprises 153 specialist prosecutors distributed nationwide, with a divisional prosecutor – Antonio Vercher – at their head, assisted by three deputies. The organization is completed by a Technical Unit, staffed by scientists, and a Police Unit drawn from the ranks of the Civil Guard’s Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) and the corps of the National Police and Forestry Agents, along with support and administrative officers.
The offences dealt with by environmental prosecutors go far beyond those appearing in that first 1983 law. The Spanish Criminal Code considers the environment in a broad sense, as incorporating “land planning, historical heritage, mistreatment of domestic animals, environmental damage and wildfires, placing it in a frame consubstantial with the concept of sustainable development,” Antonio Vercher explains.
As such, the crimes pursued are of a varied nature as well as a growing technical complexity. Investigating a
large fire, for instance, may take years. Among other reasons, because the effects extend below the surface to the subsoil. “A fire immediately implies the contamination of the aquifer beneath, and after the next rain the ground becomes impermeable. Quantifying the impact of these processes is a lengthy endeavor,” Vercher remarks.
In the view of the judges, its work “has been instrumental in reducing forest fires, urban planning corruption, atmospheric pollution, the illegal trafficking of species, cruelty to animals and the use of poisoned bait, and in the conservation of resources such as water.” The jury also states that the Public Prosecutor’s Office “has invariably based its work on the best scientific evidence” and has contributed to “a deeper understanding of the causes of environmental crime and an approach geared to the prevention of attacks on nature.”